Texas A&M Biologists Honored As Top Texas Inventors Of 2011
SAN ANTONIO — Texas A&M University biologists Dr. Richard Gomer and Dr. Darrell Pilling have been selected by the State Bar of Texas (SBOT) as the 2011 Texas Inventors of the Year in recognition of their work resulting in several fibrosing disease-related patents.
The two were presented with their prestigious awards earlier today (Friday, June 24) during the State Bar of Texas IP Section annual luncheon at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio Hotel. Following a short introduction by nominating attorney Michelle M. LeCointe, State Bar IP Section Inventor Recognition Committee Chairman and an associate with Austin-based Baker Botts L.L.P., the two will deliver a brief presentation on their award-winning technology and research.
Gomer and Pilling, respective members of the Texas A&M faculty since 2008 and 2010, have collaborated toward several advances with the blood protein serum amyloid P (SAP) to control routine processes, from wound-healing to scarring. In addition to patents, their research has resulted in a company they cofounded, Promedior Inc., to further develop SAP-related technology that could lead to the first treatment options capable of halting or even eliminating the build-up of deadly scar tissue in a broad class of diseases that account for an estimated 45 percent of U.S. deaths each year.
“What seems to be happening is that the scar tissue cells go away,” Gomer explains. “We don’t know if they die or just round up and leave. It looks like if you can prevent the new scar tissue formation, the old scar tissue will go away, and you can actually reverse fibrosis if it’s something you catch early on, which doctors generally do.”
In their initial studies at Rice University in 2007, Gomer and Pilling noticed that SAP inhibited the differentiation of blood cells to fibrotic tissue. They theorized that if getting rid of the SAP in a wound was possible, more scar tissue cells would be available, thus enabling the wound to heal faster.
“As it turns out, SAP binds like crazy to a sugar polymer made by seaweed that’s used as a thickener in all kinds of stuff — chocolate milk, ice cream, lipstick, deodorant,” Gomer explains. “There are certain kinds of this agar made by seaweed that you can buy that will bind to SAP. So we made bandages of this seaweed polymer that would gobble up the SAP, resulting in faster formation of scar tissue.”
Gomer, who is a member of the structural biology group within the Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Building, was a professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Rice for eight years prior to coming to Texas A&M. A former Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, he has authored more than 100 publications and currently serves on the editorial boards for the International Journal of Cell Biology and the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. Beyond fibrosing disease, he also is known for his research on the single-celled amoebae “Dictyostelium” and is co-author of a number of astrophysical research papers, courtesy of his undergraduate degree in physics and lifelong love of astronomy.
To read the full feature on Gomer’s and Pilling’s SAP research, visit http://vpr.tamu.edu/publications/tissue-is-the-issue.
For more on their research at Texas A&M, visit http://www.bio.tamu.edu/FACMENU/FACULTY/GomerR.html or http://ilsb.tamu.edu/researchers/structural-biology/richard-gomer.